I’m suddenly normal. It’s a very strange feeling.
To be sure, I’m only normal in one teeny, tiny respect, but you see, I didn’t change anything to achieve this. I didn’t alter myself or my habits; I didn’t move elsewhere; I didn’t suddenly gain a new circle of friends and acquaintances. And yet, literally overnight, one aspect of my life has gone from me being the weirdo to suddenly me being normal and completely accepted.
On Monday the 5th of October, England caught up with Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and instituted a £0.05 charge (today, that’s $0.077) for each single-use carrier bag issued in a shop – well, about half of them. There are a raft of exceptions: small shops don’t have to charge (but might choose to); bags only containing certain items, such as unwrapped food, raw meat and fish where there is a food safety risk, prescription medicines, uncovered blades, seeds, bulbs and flowers, or live fish don’t need to be charged for; and so on. The official guidance is here.
The government did this in the name of the environment – it wants to see less litter, it wants less bags made, it wants to spend less cleaning up the litter, etc. The charge, mind you, is NOT going towards the litter cleanup cost, which is my quibble: in true English style, it’s mostly supposed to be donated to charity – whatever charity that particular retailer chooses. The £0.05 includes our 20% sales tax (vat), so 4.17 pence is available for the retailer, and 0.83 pence goes to the government. The retailers “are allowed to deduct only ‘reasonable costs’ from the 5p fee. These include the cost of ‘changing till systems’ and ‘training staff’, but not the money used to purchase stock.”1
I’ve long hated the accumulation of carrier bags; I find fabric bags much nicer (less noisy, for a start, and able to be washed in the washing machine). They make these great ones that can be folded down very small, and I’ve kept at least one of these in my purse (handbag) for years. Sometimes nothing but plastic will do – especially to get the bread home dry when it’s raining – so having a certain number has always been useful. But you end up with masses if you’re not careful. Even having my own bags, even trying to use them, I’ve had shop assistants insist on thrusting bags at me whether I wanted them or not so often, that I’ve had to purge periodically. Thankfully, I found great outlets for my bags – the torn up ones went to Ocado, one of the supermarkets I use, which I was reasonably sure would actually recycle them. The usable ones would go to my friendly local farmer who delivers weekly to me, or to the charity shop in town that’s always so grateful for them. But yes, thrusting a bag at the customer was so habitual that I couldn’t stop many shop assistants, and I ended up with quite a mass of these to sort about once a month.
The time Chris and I went to Stalybridge Handmade Market, which was a lovely market of individual artisans who’d made the stuff they were selling (our kind of market), I confounded them all when I told them I didn’t need a bag. They were all so intent on giving me their bags – paper bags, these, which are even less useful to me – and all I could see was waste. All I could see was that them having spent money to buy these, for me to turn around and put them in my recycle when I got home, not even having needed them in the meantime, since we’d brought bags. But they were so crushed, it was like stepping on a puppy! I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.
When I could forestall them, I often had the sense that they were humoring me. “Oh look at her, fiddling with her bag. Guess we’ll put up with it this time.”
But the English are a thrifty lot, and £0.05 per bag seems too steep most of the time, so overnight, bringing your own bag suddenly became okay. I was no longer getting a feeling of being humored, anywhere. Dealing with my bags (fabric bags are floppy, that’s the downside, but after that report I read about the germs in reused bags, I refuse to use non-washed bags) was suddenly just part of the transaction.
I suddenly became normal!
It’s very weird. It’s nice to suddenly not have this slight power struggle going on, or the extra chore of sorting out my plastic bags once a month. I’d rather just pay a bit for the odd plastic bags I do want – that’s a far more cost effective use of my time, really. So yes, nice, to be sure – but crikey, it’s weird. So long as I don’t turn too much normal, I suppose.